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Do your patients do the "amnesia walk"?

June 4, 2023
Dental patient "amnesia" can be very frustrating. Do they remember a word their dentist says? Here's how to avoid the problem.

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly patients forget. It's like they walk through a magnetic field from the time they leave your chair to walk to the front desk. Their minds go completely blank. They question every service performed and any future treatment discussed. I'm sure this is the same scenario in dental offices everywhere. And let's be honest, when it's been one of those days and “patient amnesia” strikes for the 10th time, your nerves can begin to unravel!

While this can be frustrating, put yourself in patients’ shoes. Whether they show it or not, they’re under a lot of stress these days. Whatever the cause, it's a good idea to be mindful of what and how much you tell them. Speak in layman's terms. Don't let your language get too technical. Try not to overexplain and give too much detailed information. This can leave patients confused or even frightened and less likely to accept treatment. Be repetitive. If patients hear something more than once, their chances of remembering are far greater.

Also, break visits into chunks. “Chunking” means breaking large pieces of information into smaller parts. For example, remembering your social security number is much easier when broken into chunks, created by dashes that separate the numbers into three separate parts.

1. Identify the problem.

If possible, ask open-ended questions. A basic, "So how have you been doing?" could be enough to get the patient talking. Open-ended questions as simple as "Tell me more about that" will help zero in on issues the patient is experiencing. Once you’ve identified a problem, repeat what was discussed.

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2. With the problem identified, what are the consequences for not fixing it?

Again, be repetitive. This will help the patient remember what was discussed, and most important, the consequences for not fixing their problem. Make sure the patient understands that the problem will likely become worse, potentially become painful, and cost more to fix as time goes by. Speak about the negative aspects for choosing not to go with the recommended dental treatment.

Offer to help them avoid the negative consequences with a simple suggestion, such as, "Wouldn’t it make sense to take care of this issue before it starts to be too painful?"

3. What is the solution to the problem?

Make sure to repeat the patient's answers once they agree to the prescribed treatment. An example is, “So it sounds like you want to get this crown completed before it starts to give you trouble." This reinforces their decision and sets them at ease, knowing they have made the decision to avoid future negative consequences.

When we simplify how and what we communicate, while including only those aspects that are important to the decision-making process, treatment recommendations will increase. Breaking down the patient visit into three parts and repeating key points will help make visits more memorable and productive. This will most certainly ensure happy patients telling all of their friends about their amazing dentist and their amazing team.

Editor's note: Originally posted in 2021 and updated regularly